“I didn’t hit you that hard,” Mary Metz remembers her abuser telling her. It was his way of rationalizing years of domestic violence, which grew progressively worse until Metz finally found the courage and support she needed to escape.
Growing up in a small town in Kansas, Metz didn’t know much about domestic violence or the emotional and physical tactics abusers use to keep their victims from seeking help. Like many victims, Metz thought she had done something to earn her husband’s violent explosions and was too ashamed to tell anyone.
But now, as a volunteer for the Willow Domestic Violence Center, she works hard to make sure other domestic violence victims have the support they need to escape the abuse and begin new lives.
Metz was honored by the Willow as its volunteer of the year for leadership/board service during the United Way Roger Hill Volunteer Center’s Celebration of Volunteers on Tuesday. She was one of 60 volunteers recognized for their contributions to area agencies during this annual event.
When she moved to Lawrence years ago, Metz attended a support group at the Willow, which was then known as Women’s Transitional Care Services. She learned firsthand how important this agency, which provides safe shelter, peer counseling and advocacy, is to survivors. In 2012 alone, the Willow provided 5,378 safe shelter nights to survivors and served 499 nonshelter survivors.
When Metz retired in 2007 from her career as a certified public accountant and management consultant, she decided to volunteer at the Willow so she could continue to use her professional skills and help other victims of domestic violence.
Metz provides financial analysis for the agency, serves on its finance committee and helps secure funding from grants. She also helps train incoming volunteer advocates by sharing her own story so they better understand what domestic violence survivors experience.
“I had a good job, lived in a nice house. Who would think what was going on behind closed doors?” she said. “I didn’t talk about it because I was ashamed. I thought it was my fault.”
As the abuse grew worse, Metz knew she had to get out. Like many victims, she did leave, seven times, only to return because she didn’t have the financial ability to go it alone. “Economics is a tremendous barrier,” she says. So are social and religious mores. “I came from a small town where everybody knew everybody. No one in my family had ever been divorced. I was totally devastated, and it took me a long time before I had any confidence at all.”
With the help of her extended family, she finally got out and relocated to Lawrence. Here, she found a new life. “I made friends and started to have self-confidence. I was able to do a lot of things I never would have been able to do, like get a master’s degree. I got to travel with my job and go to a lot of places I never would have gone. Every difficulty you overcome makes you stronger.”
Even though it’s difficult for Metz to share her story, she knows it’s critical that she do so. “This is an area I feel very passionately about. I feel it gives some insight into the difficulties victims of domestic violence face. I want to give hope to others,” she said.
Metz’s willingness to talk about her own experience has strengthened the Willow’s volunteer training program, according to Becca Burns, director of volunteer services for the Willow. “Hers is a powerful story and a perfect example of what we see, so it really opens our training participants’ eyes to what our survivors go through,” Burns said. “Her story has inspired us to collect other survivors’ stories, and we use them as educational pieces in the community, to dispel myths — like why someone would stay?”
There is always a need for volunteers at the Willow, Burns said, serving as advocates or using their professional skills, as Metz has. “We’ve had lawyers do pro bono work for us. We’ve had educators do presentations for us. There are a million ways to get involved.”
To learn more about volunteering at the Willow, contact Burns at 785-331-2034, ext. 104, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. To discover many other volunteer opportunities in Douglas County, visit www.volunteerdouglascounty.org.